A close friend of President-elect Barack Obama is expected to be named to lead the Federal Communications Commission, emphasizing the new president’s interest in using internet broadband as a tool for economic development. Obama and Julius Genachowski were classmates at Harvard Law School and have remained close since.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had an FCC chairman who is close to the president,” Andy Lipman, who leads the telecom-media practice at the Bingham McCutchen law firm in Washington, said to Austin American-Statesman reporter David Ho. “It’s important because the president and the White House want to be hands-on in terms of FCC policy, especially using broadband as a key part of the economic stimulus.”

Information Week reports that Genachowski has clerked for two U.S. Supreme Court justices and has worked for entertainment mogul Barry Diller. The first controversy to meet the new FCC chair, however, will be the February 17 conversion from analog transmission of television signals to digital. Obama has asked that this switch be postponed because too many elderly and rural residents don’t have the devices that allow analog sets to receive a digital signal.

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